woensdag 18 januari 2012

Japanese Carmakers Driving Backwards

Something that has been bothering me lately has to do with the Japanese. Not the fact that they are recovering from an earthquake, or that their nuclear plants have gone underground, literally. No, somehow the Japanese car makers are ruining it, for themselves. Remember the good old days when you would dream of owning a Subaru Impreza WRX, or a Mitsubshi Lancer Evo, or a 9000rpm revving Honda Civic Type R? Ordinary saloon cars became bedroom poster heroes. Nowadays I would not even put my dead body in any Subaru, or Mitsubishi, nor Honda. Why?

Everyone who has ever looked for a second-hand car knows them, those overly engineered but lethally boring Japanese cars from the 80s and 90s. The outside was all-right with lots of options and colours to choose, but the inside came only in one colour: GREY. Dashboard, seats, carpet, doorhandles, sunvisor, everything was grey. It is really like driving a block of concrete; tough as hell, but everything you see is grey. Still Honda, Toyota and others survived. Old people are grey themselves and like something to last for ages, that's why they bought Civics and Corollas en masse. And as the Japanese could make them for 12,50 a piece they even made money out of it, great business it was. Moreover, in order to appeal to younger people, they employed the most mental engineers you could find in Japan who turned those cars into rally car. Which were then released into forests around the world, and more importantly: the streets where real people drive on.

Unfortunately, modern old people (contradiction on purpose), don't want everything to be grey, dull and more reliable than the universe. Therefore the Japanese had to innovate, making their cars more Lexusourious and still last till Infiniti. This all worked rather well until a good five years ago, when they thought the world was ready for Japanese design. To me, Japanese design still stands for paper walls, very very low tables and honeycomb hotels (although I never saw any of those in real life). Japanese car design however, stands for vague design languages (which I dislike in general) and cars which seem a little odd, but not in the good bonkers retro Citroën way. The Japanese have a sickening obsession with lines and folds on the bodywork of the car, their cars are almost wrinkly, so many lines are there on their skin.

Kings of vague design languages are Mazda. First they came up with 'Nagare' where:
"the challenge was given to the team to invent a novel means of registering motion in vehicles whether they were moving or still".
But why? It would just make me unsure if the handbrake was working properly or not. Imagine a street parked full of Nagare-inspired cars and having to cross it, that's Japanese roulette, not a design language. Looking into the names of various concept cars the designers took this as a chance to put a lot of Wind jokes into car names, but more of that later. After the 'Moving or maybe not or maybe it is' generation they were asked to put more soul in the car by adding 'the expression of faster, more forceful movement'. And thus far, the cars which should be looking like Fiat Panda's struggling up a hill don't even look that bad surprisingly.

With such a design language come cars which are themed around the concept of playing with farts wind. Best known is probably the Furai, which translated from Japanese means 'The sound of a wind'. Why they didn't call it the Mazda PFFFRRTTT! remains a mystery.

Ever wondered what the atmosphere looked like? Please look further, because Mazda's Taiki (atmosphere) is not really what you hope to be living in. "The challenge was to incorporate elegant and refined design treatments that express Japanese concepts of mysterious beauty and intelligence within a dynamic body shape". Never mind, could be worse, they could have actually produced it.

One of the worst concepts (in my opinion) is this: the Mazda Hakaze (Ha=leaf, Kaze=wind). Believe it or not, it is not designed in Japan. Some megalomanic German Japanese of Mazda's European Design Center came up with this 'compact crossover with a roadster feel'. “The design team took inspiration from sports and outdoor activities in the wind or in the water giving the sensation of being free and allows us to break boundaries,”. Unfortunately not sir, you're still stuck in a Mad Mazda, now please follow that man in the white coat. 

But what I miss most in the modern Japanese cars is any bit of Samurai, they are so modest, so average. Yes, the Japanese are champions in making cars which are average, when the Europeans are trying to be different. Japan used to deliver sport coupes which any European car maker thought to be unprofitable. Supras, Celicas, RX-7s and 8s, you name it. Even putting slightly oversized engines into average cars produced brilliant things. But not anymore, now only Hybrids are made in Japan, and wrinkly cars.
You used to be cool.

donderdag 12 januari 2012

Sehr Clever, how VW turned the Polo into the new Golf

It has been an ongoing trend at the launch of new models, the new Fiesta/Polo/Panda has to be bigger than the previous one. Be it by a few centimeters, it is a purely symbolic measure to convince the customer that the new Panda/Polo/Fiesta gives you more value for money than the old one. And when you stick to this trend for long enough, you eventually will make room for a new model. Therefore, Polo is the new Golf, dahling!
A small statistic to underline what I am saying here, it compares the length and width of the several generations of Polos and Golfs:

Generation // Length // Width // Difference
Polo I        // 3.51m // 1.56m //
Golf I        // 3.71m // 1.61m // +0.2, +0.05

Polo II      // 3.72m // 1.57m //
Golf II      // 3.99m // 1.67m // +0.27, +0.1

Polo III    // 3.71m // 1.66m //
Golf III    // 4.02m // 1.70m // +0.31, +0.04

Polo IV   // 3.90m // 1.65m //
Golf IV   // 4.14 - // 1.73m // +0.24/0.5, +0.08

Polo V   // 3.92m // 1.65m //
Golf V   // 4.20m // 1.76m // +0.28, +0.11

Polo VI // 3.97m // 1.68m //
Golf VI // 4.20m // 1.79m // +0.23, +0.11

In their lifespan the cars grew 46 and 49 centimeters in length and 12 and 18 centimeters in width, which doesn't seem like an awful lot, but on a car of 4 meters in length 50 centimeters represents 1/8 of the total length. Some funny lines to be drawn, the current Polo is virtually as big as the Golf II/III, which was not a small car, was it? Even the Polo launched in 2001 can be called equal to ye olde Golfe. I am also slightly surprised that the Golf doesn't turn out to be as much bigger than the Polo as I believed it to be.

But what is the point of this conspiracy comparison of yours, I hear you think. Well, have you noticed how many company cars have changed from Diesel Golfs into three-cylinder Polos? Exactly what VW wanted to happen, they make their small(er) Polo a bit bigger to resemble a smaller, more nimble and efficient Golf and price it a little more practical and there is your new Volkshatch. With the Polo being the new people's hatch, Volkswagen make the Golf a little more luxurious by putting a satnav in (I assume) and make some more cash on that. Until some point in the future, when the Lupo/UP!/Whateverthesmallcariscalled becomes big enough to be the Polo, I mean Golf, er?? Hatchback. Which is what will happen this year, the new Lupo is quite close to the size of the initial Polo. In 35 year Volkswagen have moved every car so gently that they created room for a new model, marketing +1.

Now don't you tell me this is not true, Rally fans should have noticed by now that Rally cars have shrunk from Focus/C4 size to Fiesta/DearShiny3 (DS3 for others). Are the cars any slower? No. Could the new regulations have been applied to the old, bigger cars? Sure. But then people would still be buying Focusses/C4s. Where are the times when a big Pantzer Merc S-class or a gigantic Volvo 240 Estate could be qualified as a touring car? Everything is becoming smaller, which is fun in the city, but I want to see big cars going sideways on a track.

WTCC Champion 2019: Kimi Alonso in a 1.25l, 3 cylinder Ford Ka.
I warned you ;)

woensdag 7 december 2011

Box of Neutrals Interview (The Full HD Sky Version)

Pleasently surprised to see the previous highlights post has been the most read post so far on this blog, and as promised I would also make the full, uncut interview available. 16 Pages which feature never released content ;)
So in reprise: That Cars Blog interviews Box of Neutrals!

Get it up you!

woensdag 30 november 2011

That Cars Blog interviews Box Of Neutrals (Extended Highlight Package)

Something that you might (not) know is that part from having an immense petrolhead I also like my fair share of Formula One. And if I remember correctly it was a tweet from Dutch F1-commentator Olav Mol that got me hooked with a very special podcast called Box of Neutrals. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was made by a bunch of guys not much older than myself and that they managed to avoid much of the seriousness of F1 journalism and show the funny side of paddock life. To the best of my knowledge, Michael, Rob and Peter are probably the youngest (to some extent professional) F1-journalists.....in the world.

Anywho, time passed and so when friend and Box of Neutrals-groupie Tiff (who also happens to write a BLOG every now and then) told me she was doing an interview with Michael, Rob and Peter from the podcast and was looking for questions there was no way I was going to let this chance go by. So now, after intense brainstorming for questions and refining the answers we got back, That Cars Blog presents: Box of Neutrals, the Extended Highlight Edition, the full uncut interview will be published right after this.

Before you start reading, I'd like to thank Tiff for letting my twisted journalistic mind join in, and Michael, Rob and to a certain extent Peter for giving two groupies more attention than they could ever imagine or deserve (we got 16 pages of answers).
Therefore you should definitely listen to Box of Neutrals, every Friday from 3 till 4.30pm Melbourne time on SYN, if you happen to live in a part of the world which makes that a very early breakfast show, listen to one of their podcasts here or in the itunes store. You can also find them on twitter and facebook to liven up that boring procession at the Bahrain GP.
And give Tiff's blog a read, visit http://www.femaleformulafun.blogspot.com

NOTE: This interview might contain references you don't understand at all, I told you you should listen to Box of Neutrals! Now Get It Up You!

Please explain to our millions of readers, who you are, and what Box Of Neutrals is.
Michael: Box Of Neutrals is a controversial Australian News and Current Affairs programme, notorious for its sensationalist reporting, and is an example of tabloid television where stories rotate around diet fads, miracle cures, welfare cheats, shonky builders, negligent doctors, poorly run businesses, and corrupt government officials. For this reason the programme is constantly under criticism and ridicule.
Rob: Michael’s pretty much covered that part, and plus I probably misread the question in my original response so I have a story/Wikipedia entry of how the show came to be, or be to came. Like an old wise tale.
Box Of Neutrals was born in the middle of 2010 when Michael and I were both at SYN Radio in Melbourne and realised we also went to the same university. And the same class - Australian Cinema.
Most of the meetings about what would eventually become Box Of Neutrals were born out of those lectures. I’ve been trying to find my notes where we scribbled down a list of potential names for the show, which I’m willing to say I lost, only to save myself from the disappointment of never finding them!
Michael and I each had separate shows, yet I found out when listening to Michael’s old show that he was into cars and Formula 1. Then we sort of crossed paths and worked out some weird co-incidences.
Speaking of weird co-incidences, Peter McGinley and I went to the same high school. Except Peter was a year level below myself, so I’ve technically known Peter since I was 13. Even though I only spoke to him last year when I joined SYN Radio. So just like most things that have happened on the show, Box Of Neutrals really came to be by accident.

Pete:  I like Neil Mitchell.

You do an amazing job of delivering serious F1 related content with a comedic twist. How do you decide what makes funny F1?
Michael: If you analyse the show on a really deep level, you’ll discover that it’s mostly Peter McGinley trying to say something funny, then Rob playing a sound effect. Somehow, this works. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but then Two And A Half Men doesn’t really make any sense to me either – and that’s popular, apparently.
In all seriousness, I don’t really know, I think it’s just that we all get along pretty well. 

Rob: Formula 1 is a very funny sport. It features some brilliant personalities, moments and storylines, and to be honest we don’t think a lot of the mainstream broadcasters see this aspect of the sport. Because sport is supposed to be sport, humour isn’t the first thing you think of when talking about Formula 1.
When you see or hear other Formula 1/motorsport shows around the world, they all pretty much do the same thing. Talk about the latest news and happenings, and then cut to the race itself. We knew there was no point trying to be something we’re not, and for that matter doing the same thing as everyone else is doing.
For example, Mark Webber. Everybody else would say he’s Australian, is teammates with Sebastian Vettel and probably isn’t as good as Vettel. Whereas we see him as the guy that licks his face in the press conferences a lot, looks a bit like Don Draper from Mad Men and once vomited inside of his helmet. We also see him as a great racing driver, but who else could even imagine to come up with half of the crap that we come up with for these characters of the sport?

Michael: I think Peter Windsor sums it up pretty well, we are arm-chaired journalists. Like most things we do, Windsor seems to do it better. Like with his blog, he said he wasn’t going to write just another news blog. So, instead, he made a diary-style feature website, which I thought was really cool. IN that way, we didn’t make just an ordinary podcast, we made one that was a little more character-driven, based on what we found funny. I think it comes back to that ‘attention whore’ thing...
Rob: That isn’t to say other shows don’t do a good job, but we actively scour to find the bits in Formula 1 that other people/shows miss. I’d like to think we’ve single handedly bolstered the popularity of Olav Mol in Australia.

Pete: Lefties!

In which countries is your podcast most popular? Do you get surprised by how international Box of Neutrals is getting?
Rob: Michael and Peter have more access to those statistics, but based on the conversations we’ve had, it’s a tie between Australia and Europe. We have a good following in the UK as I man the Twitter feed during the races through the #BBCF1 hashtag, and plus we speak English. I’m more surprised by our reach in places like the Netherlands and even Asia. Maybe less surprised by the Netherlands as we interviewed Olav Mol.

Michael: We don’t have much to tell us where our podcast is most popular, though Facebook tells us it’s in Australia that we have the most listeners. After that comes the UK, then a whole bunch of places like Belgium, the Netherlands, and even Malaysia for some reason.

I distinctly remember creating this Olav Mol page as a joke, after Rob introduced me to the world of Olav Mol. For a long while it had only a handful of followers, but now there are loads of these Dutch people joining up and leaving comments - one of them even posted a picture of themselves with Olav! I feel a little bit guilty - maybe I should tell him next time we see him. I feel oddly powerful, though - I control his online image. The things I could do...
Rob: I am surprised, yet I’m not at the same time, by our overseas followers. We’ve been quietly chipping away at creating a fan base, and compared to this time last year, there’s been an astonishing increase. I do hope it continues to spiral out of control this time next year. I’m hoping to make Peter McGinley a cult celebrity in Estonia by mid-2013.

Michael:  It still baffles me, and puts an incredible grin on my face, that the likes of yourself - and even Martijn from the Netherlands (yours truly, rambling away on this blog) - sat down on your Saturday afternoon or whenever and coloured in a picture of Peter McGinley’s face. The frickin’ Netherlands, that’s just ridiculous. I could never have imagined that happening, ever. It’s like Peter’s face is some sort of trans-continental disease. In a nice way. We love it.
Pete: Go feck yourself to buggery!

To all three of you: Replace a GP on the current calendar with a race at a location of your choice (either existing circuit or new location).
Rob: I would lose the Chinese Grand Prix and stage a race at Imola. I think the Chinese Grand Prix has had its chance to make an impact, and considering China is fast becoming one of the powerhouses of the Western world, Formula 1 stuffed it up. There isn’t a motorsport culture there, and the circuit itself hardly has any redeeming qualities. It’s an expensive fad these kind of races, if I’m brutally honest. They’re not sustainable.
And I know Michael will say France.
Michael: That’s cheating! I wrote my answer to this first!
...Bahrain for France, easy. That way we get to race in Belgium annually, and we don’t have to go to Bahrain. There are literally no losers... except for Bahrain, I suppose.


If you were to design your own track, what parts or corners of other circuits would you definitely put in it?
Michael:  It’s going to be difficult to top Rob’s answer. But I’ll say Eau Rouge and Rivage at Spa are the first two that come to my head. I love Eau Rouge - cliché, I know - because it’s such a rare sort of part of a racetrack these days. Rivage is such a pain of a corner because of the way it’s cambered, and so purely just because it’s a bit irritating I’d include it. I’d probably throw the Lesmos in too, from Monza, but just because it’s a bit funny to say ‘lesmos’.
Now do read on...

Rob: For all the shit we and others have given to Hermann Tilke, it’s a hard gig. This is my entry.

Circuit du McGinley

Michael: It is pretty tough to design a circuit. Our crazy voiceover man Adam sometimes sits in the studio with us. He had a crack at designing his own racetrack during one episode - it ended up looking suspiciously like a... phallic object. See the dishonourable mention from the Kolouring Kopmetition.
Pete: Nuuuurrrggghhh.

And then, It really turned Box of Neutralesque:

Would you rather host F1 on Australian national TV or co-commentate with Olav Mol in the Netherlands?
Rob: I’d love to tag team the Dutch commentary as an English commentator! I think hosting the Formula 1 coverage is the great dream of ours, especially if we could do it in the current format we do now. F1 in Australia needs a bit more storytelling and personality like the BBC. Then again, the BBC have a monstrous budget. 2012 will be interesting for the BBC if they can maintain their high standards next year with a compromised budget and on-air cast, possibly.

Michael: I would love to commentate with Olav Mol, but I think there’d be a language barrier issue. I’d probably just say ‘fuck’ a lot, and I don’t even like to swear regularly, I just imagine he’d be that infectious.
Plus I’d really like to shake up the coverage currently provided by the Australian host broadcaster. I think Ten does very little with the rights granted to them by FOM, and would love to try to change it somehow. While totally appreciating that Ten isn’t willing to spend much money because the commercial return isn’t great, I’d still love to try to provide something a little more unique than the generic panel-style show we have now. Like incorporate more swearing, for example – it seems to work in the Netherlands.

Pete: [My pants] smell like vomit.

'Oh Mark Webber, What the fuck gebeurd daar nou zeg?'
Rob: Huld hulda..

Michael: Fucken-eh.
Pete: Cows are only good for eating, and nothin’ much else.

Lotus-Genii Capital-Eric Booyeah-Vitaly Trololololo Petrov-Lada Renault GP or Lotus-Air Asia-Tony NAAAAAAAGGGHHHHH Feranandes-Caterham-Renault?
Rob: I really admire the way Team Lotus (nee Caterham) have conducted themselves. They’re easily my favourite of the new teams, and I believe they have a bright future ahead of them. Red Bull Racing took over a decade to really show any promise, if you count their spells under Stewart and Jaguar. Even Red Bull had to accept being mid-field for about four years as a constructor.
The way Team Lotus also conduct themselves with the media and the fans is something I admire. They certainly set the trend with leading Formula One into this era of Twitter and new media. For a team that has not scored a point this season and with far less resources compared to the bigger teams, they certainly sell themselves well. Just have a look at the number of sponsors they’ve managed to secure.
Renault (nee Lotus - wow that’s confusing) I respect what they do as a team. They’ve been world champions before, and such is the circle of Formula One, I don’t doubt they will be again if they hang around.
The team is in a different era to that of the Briatore Benetton/Renault days, but it has gone through the highs of being double world champions under both Benetton and Renault, and mid-field stragglers under both establishments. If they hold onto Bruno Senna for 2012, I’ll have a softer spot for that team. I think the whole Lotus versus Lotus affair made them look like the bad guys. Maybe I just really missed their yellow & black livery of 2010!

Michael: If I can say something totally unexpected, I already miss this. Next year we’ll only have one Lotus, and I bet we’ll (probably, maybe) reminisce about the good ol’ days when we had two Lotuses (Loti?) on the grid, and Vitaly Petrov used to get confused as being Jarno Trulli’s team-mate. Plus it’s been fun trying to explain the battle to people and confusing them - and usually me in the process.
Pete: I’m pouring kerosene in my ears.

If you were 'Conducteur' i.e. Jean Todt for one day, what would you immediately introduce into F1?
Rob: I would love to see an endurance style Formula One race. I’ve been mocked on several occasions on the programme for coming up with it, but with enough planning and foresight, I think it could actually be done.
I think it would partly eliminate the issue that we have in the sport at the moment where testing days are limited.

Michael: I continue to mock this idea, now in print form. It just wouldn’t work. Formula One cars aren’t designed to run endurance. Some of them *coughVirgincough* can barely make it through the regular distance.
Rob: If you give a non-full time driver a golden opportunity to compete in a race, then I think it can be justified. I think my inspiration is from V8 Supercars where you see a lot of young drivers, and even the ones on the brink of the pension, only racing twice a year the endurance events.
Just imagine Sebastian Vettel & Daniel Ricciardo winning the same race in the Red Bull! It would give another 24 drivers in the world to have a shot at driving in Formula One, even if it’s only for one or two rounds at these crazy endurance events.

It’s a crazy idea I know, but the best decision is my decision.

Michael: I answered this question last, because I couldn’t come up with an answer! I’m still not sure I have one, actually. I would like to see some open architecture when it comes to engines – I think Formula One is becoming a little bit restrictive these days. I mean, I know it’s all to keep costs down, which quite sensible – but I don’t like that we have an engine freeze, and that sort of thing. I’d like to see manufacturers be able to try different engine configurations – within some pre-defined boundaries, of course – but for them to try different stuff, just to mix it up a little bit.
Pete: Why does everything seem to be served with pancakes at the Pancake Parlour?

One country that definitely would deserve a Grand Prix is...
Rob: I’m astonished that Finland, a country rich with racing talent inside and outside of Formula One, does not have a Grand Prix. I’d love to see a race there, but I suspect they don’t have the money like Abu Dhabi, Singapore, India, American behind them to build their own Hermann Tilke super-circuit.
Although I suspect Bernie Ecclestone may have privately pondered the thought of Formula One going around the Ouninpohja stage in Rally Finland.

Oy, saatana!

Michael: Now that France is set to return, I’m not really sure. There’s this place called ‘Sandwich Island’ off the South American coast. There’s only a handful of people living there, so we could pretty much do what we like. It’s be an easy island to conquer, so I think it’s worth a shot.
Uhm... but how about Libya? Or maybe Iran? Both have been touted as future Formula One destinations.

Pete: Don’t talk to me about tolerance.

This is a cool spot. Discuss.

Rob: I love it! It’s not every day that you see teams adopting fake sponsors on their cars just to make it look busy. Not since the days of tobacco sponsorship when they had to obscure it with random phrases like “TEAM SPIRIT” and “DON’T WALK”.

Michael:This is a cool spot’ ranks as one of my favourite ever Formula One things ever, and has ensured that HRT will surely go down with designing one of history’s greatest ever racing liveries. Children will dream of one day racing for the cool spot colours, and I imagine that in around 20 years, the colours will be brought back in all of their glory as HRT attempts to rekindle that magic of its early years.
Rob: My favourite one has to be ‘this could be you’ on the rear wing of the HRT. I found it particularly amusing when I went to the Australian Grand Prix and saw a four car train behind Narain Karthikeyan.
That said, I find it amusing that they’ve now disappeared from the cars. I’d hate to think it was our constant mockery of it that brought it to an end. Only HRT could make a fake sponsor dissolve.

Michael: Undoubtedly the best part about ‘This is a cool spot’ is that it no longer exists. HRT have managed to do the impossible - create a fictional company that went bankrupt. How does that even happen? Oh HRT, how we love you.
Pete: Horrible Racing Team. *dun* *dun* *tsh*

Do you think the F1 organisers (led by Bernie Ecclestone) ask too much from the circuits in terms of money for holding a F1 race?
Rob: To be honest, I’m not entirely certain. By that I mean, I’m not privy to the facts and figures of the circuits and its promoters. From what I’ve observed, I think Formula One has failed to adapt to the change in economic climate in terms of where the races are staged. It has in terms of how teams spend their money, but Formula One appeared invincible during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9 Mk 1.

Michael: I think it’s a tough call. On the one hand I think not – purely because there’s a clever business strategy behind it. By charging a lot of money. Bernie can price out some of the ‘pretender’ bids, and assume safely that promoters that can pay large fees up front will be able to continue to pay large fees. On the other hand, the high cost of hosting a race is starting to price out some of the core Grand Prix events. We’re seeing Belgium having to alternate with France just to stay afloat, and it seems only a matter of time before the two German circuits go under – and they’re already alternating.
Rob: The likes of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and China who have thrown millions upon millions of dollars have set the trend, and the expectation, that other circuits need to match their standards and price. It’s not feasible to expect a long standing circuit such as Spa or Interlagos to mimic the style of Hermann Tilke’s designs and the money the promoters/investors/government/omnipresent forces have poured into it.

Michael: I think it has to be accepted that Formula One is probably the biggest capitalist sport going around at this point, when you consider the vast amounts of money that travels through the F1 banks (and those of Ecclestone’s family trust, and various shifty German bankers). Bernie’s job isn’t to cater to the fans, it’s to make money for his employers at CVC. If he does cater to the fans, that’s by coincidence – in the end it’s all about money.
Rob: Silverstone has done an awesome job of improving its facilities to secure its long term future in Formula One, but Bernie Ecclestone - for whatever reason - appears annoyed that they managed to achieve what they’ve done.
He’d love to go to Russia or another country willing to throw money at Formula One to host a race. Turkey did that, and look where they’ve ended up. Formula One should not, and I don’t believe can sustain in the long term, to go to circuits throwing money at Formula One where the market isn’t really there. How could Formula One justify dropping the Belgian, British, Australian Grands Prix to race at Turkey?

Michael: One thing we are seeing, though, is that with things like the Euro debt crisis, and the financial instability pretty much everywhere in the world (the collapse of the US GP bid could be an example of economic conservatism), fewer and fewer places are going to be willing to fork out for a race. I think Bernie will have to cater for this eventually, because while he’s willing to farewell a few European rounds on the calendar, he can’t afford to lose too many, lest it detracts from the sport’s popularity which is, ultimately, what makes the money.
Pete: I don’t really endorse cheap labour, but...

Perez, Ricciardo, Maldonado, Di Resta, Senna (to a certain extent), Hülkenberg, Raikkonen and Grosjean might return to F1 next year, who do you think will impress most?
Rob: I think a lot of these names have enormous potential in the future. Maldonado hasn’t sold me yet, but he did well in GP2 last year. There’s got to be more to him than nerfing into Lewis Hamilton down La Source.
I would suggest Perez has the greatest potential, mostly due to his connections. The Sauber team, despite its rebuilding phase post-BMW, is a solid team to be with. He won’t win a race, but he hasn’t had to win races to show his potential. Not to mention his ties with Ferrari, I would not be surprised if he’s announced as the man who will usurp Felipe Massa.
If anything, my biggest concern would be Kimi Raikkonen returning as a massive disappointment. He entered the WRC with so much hype in 2010, and sure enough with time he could’ve established himself as a regular winner. His two years have been rather unspectacular by all accounts. And less promising than his F1 debut in 2001.

Michael: I’m actually really curious to see Grosjean return to Formula One at some point, just to see how much he has/hasn’t improved. He was pretty disappointing in his first year, but he was clearly overwhelmed by it all – plus the shadow of that whole Flavio Briatore thing was hanging over him a bit, I imagine. And Flavio casts a pretty big shadow. Hulkenberg is another I’d like to see in some competitive machinery. He looked good at Williams last year, and I think he deserves a chance to show what he’s worth, without having the added pressure of supplying a paycheque every fortnight.

So... I think, in a good car, Hulkenberg may be the one who impresses the most. I feel like the likes of Ricciardo (and Vergne?) have a load of expectation on them, and even when they do really well we’ll all be a little less impressed than we should be.

Pete: I’m not going to try to justify my racism.

Why should people listen to Box of Neutrals?
Rob: So we can sell the show to a commercial network! We don’t claim to be Autosport or Joe Saward with the integrity that they hold. We still take pride in what we do and even amongst our stupidity, behind it is a very strong work ethic. I mean, I had to find FIVE cameras to record a stripper dancing around for 30 seconds and it took two weeks to edit the footage.
One comment that we get quite regularly is people telling us that they’re not really fans of Formula One, or even know what we’re talking about half the time, but they like listening to what we have to say. That’s the thing I’m most astonished by, and gives us hope that we’re hitting the right notes.

Michael: They probably shouldn’t, really. My theory is that too many people are probably listening to our show, and as a result the Euro is in a financial crisis. Plus I’m sure there are other things people could probably spend their time doing. Like watching Antiques Roadshow.
Pete: I’m a cranberry now.

Michael: Reading back... we sure do crap on about crap.

For more incoherent answers on semi-journalistic questions, go to the full uncut version of That Cars Blog interviews Box of Neutrals.

dinsdag 15 november 2011

Chinese save Swedish car company, again.

Last time, I talked about how we, the Dutch and especially Victor Muller messed up Saab (to be precise, here). And as promised this post now gets its part two, because one thing I noticed that the Chinese transformed from poor copiers of European car companies to owners of European car companies. Volvo, and now Saab are both owned by China and to some extent Land Rover and Jaguar also went Asian as they are (quite successfully) owned by Tata).

When the Volvo brand became available as Ford was aiming to sell it, it soon became known that Geely was the preferred buyer by Ford. Many feared that the decent Swedish brand would go down when it would fall into Chinese hands, mainly because the previous attempts to get into the European market were not at all successful. No, not at all.

Yet two years after the deal, all is more than fine at Volvo. Not a long time ago they showed what the Volvo of the future might look like and it was not very Labradoresque. Admitted, it did look a bit like an Audi from the back, but it shows that the brand is handled with care.

Still, there is no guarantee to success, take for instance the acquirance of MG Rover by SAIC and the Nanjing group. To the relief of everyone they decided that production would still take place in the famous Longbridge factory in the UK, and that new models would be developed. They were, and the end result was the MG6. It would go on sale in the UK in 2011 (it did) and would be sold Europe-wide when it would turn out to be successful. Guess how many have been sold in the UK, 10.000? 1000? No. 242 from January to October. Bentley sold four times as many cars in the same period.

Probably this is caused by the dated quality used on 'the Six'. The MG6 was based on the Roewe 550, which saw the light of day because SAIC had acquired a license to build Rover 75 look-a-likes. The Rover 75 was appreciated by the British public, no doubt about that. But when you are building a budget luxury saloon based on technology originating from 1999, you are not doing it right. Even the term 'Budget Luxury Saloon' sounds strange, a bit like 'Night School Trained Brain Surgeon'.

In the end it is all about how the new owner approaches the brand. For some it is about continuing the brand itself, or helping it into the future like we see with Jaguar and Volvo. Others might see it as an easy access into the European market, lifting on the good name the brand has. Whether the Saab take over will be a success? I don't know. General Motors seems to have an awful lot of doubt about the take over by two small dealer networks in China.